Odds Are The Style Manual Is Wrong
Does anyone really know how many different style manuals are out there? It must be in the hundreds, if not thousands. Every major university has one. Every major publication has one. Pretty much every industry has their own. Some publishers have one they use that they developed. Hell, Wikipedia has their own, too.
This all means that there are no hard and fast rules for style. I promise you that no matter what you do in the written word, you can find at least one style manual saying you’re right and at least one claiming you’re wrong.
And the interesting fact of this is it is authors who decide what is “right” and what is “wrong”. The so-called experts who write the style manuals look to our works to determine what proper style is.
And by the way, so do the so-called experts who write dictionaries.
Yeah, that’s right…we authors are in control.
Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?
Style and the nebulous concept of “voice” are closely related. It is an author’s voice that sets them apart from all of the other authors and the thing that readers like about that author. Let me give you an example, and I picked this one because it’s really a non-issue today…
The split infinitive…in short, to quote from the Wikipedia article, “a split infinitive is an English-language grammatical construction in which a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, comes between the marker ‘to’ and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb.” Again, quoting from Wikipedia, they point out that: “For example, a split infinitive occurs in the opening sequence of the Star Trek television series: ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’. Here, the adverb ‘boldly’ splits the full infinitive ‘to go’.”
To meet the requirements of most style manuals, Star Trek should have said, “To go boldly where no man has gone before.”
So what? The former statement, as used in the TV series, just plain sounds better.
In other words, the style manual is wrong and the writer is right.
But, as I pointed out earlier, there are a good number of style manuals that say to ignore the split infinitive and use what sounds and flows better.
End of that discussion.
Let me give you another, more real example…
In my books set in the Immortal Love Universe™, the alert reader will note that the military titles of characters are capitalized, even when not used as a proper noun. In something like “Yes, Commander”, it is clear and accepted by generic style manuals that “Commander” should be capitalized because it is a proper noun. In the case of “Look at that bunch of Marines over there”, most generic manuals say that “Marines” should be lower case. But if you look at style manuals geared to the military world, it should indeed be capitalized.
In this case, the style manual used by almost all publishers and publications is just plain wrong.
On the other hand, one could argue that the military manuals are wrong.
So, who really is right?
Remember…we control what makes it into the style manuals—and the dictionary—so we decide what is right and what is wrong.
Do what you know is right and what fits your voice, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.